There is trouble coming to Blackstone, Nevada, the return of Hud Dixon to avenge the death of his brother Charlie, lynched following the robbery of the bank managed by the ambitious Virginia Pollicut where the collected savings of the townsfolk were held; Charlie’s remains reside in the graveyard, but the missing cash was never found.
Gunslinger Hud is not the only trouble; a genuine one-armed bandit, the Mexican known as El Diablo, also has a score to settle, and there are other arrivals in the area, four youthful drifters answerable to nobody but themselves who see Hud’s independence as an inspiration but who will capriciously turn on anyone as their whims dictate.
For Sheriff Gideon Ring, trying to maintain peace in Blackstone, his central policy is that all weapons must be surrendered on entry to the township, but with many of the locals believing Hud must know the whereabouts of the stolen money they will be gunning for him regardless, and only the brothel madame, Valencia, seems to be happy to see him.
Shot in and around the spectacular scenery of the Dolomite mountain range in northern Italy in 1969 and released the following year, The Specialists (Gli specialisti) was an Italian/French/German co-production which did not make it beyond Europe until much later, released in Britain in 1973 under the unhelpful title Drop Them or I’ll Shoot.
Ostensibly a Spaghetti Western, there is much more in the mix, and directed by Django‘s Sergio Corbucci from a script co-written with Sabatino Ciuffini, the cast is led by legendary Parisian singer and screen idol Johnny Hallyday as Hud Dixon and Italian Gastone Moschin as Sheriff Ring, while German Mario Adorf is El Diablo and Françoise Fabian brings French sophistication to Virginia Pollicut.
Presented on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration by Eureka films, the cinematography of Dario Di Palma captures the snowy mountains, forested valleys and gushing rivers which give The Specialists much of its character, while Hallyday does his best to emulate Clint Eastwood, monosyllabic as he hides in the shadows and broods before stepping into the light with his dazzling smile and blue eyes.
With a web of relationships among the townsfolk spun out of duplicity and complicity and a more complex plot than might be expected of the genre, The Specialists shifts into more surreal territory in the inevitable final hold-up, and while unfavourably received on initial release it has aged well, largely through the production values, interesting performances and quirkiness.
Presented with three audio options, Italian, French and English, there is also a interview with author Austin Fisher and a commentary from filmmaker Alex Cox, both of them experts on the Spaghetti Western genre and huge fans of Corbucci and his work, providing insight into The Specialists and the wider cinematic movement which it represents.